From inventing windshield wipers to coming up with solutions that improve the lives of millions of people around the world, women have been harnessing the power of technology to do great things for their communities, families and themselves since as early as the 18th century.
In the Middle East, women have also made their mark on the world. Take Rana el Kaliouby from Egypt, who invented the technology that helps computers recognise facial expressions and other physical indicators of how someone is feeling. Or Hind Hobeika, CEO of Beirut-based startup, Instabeat, which was named one of Forbes’ Hottest Global Startups of 2013. These women are all transforming our world through technology.
To mark International Women's Day this year, we are celebrating the dynamic doers, the trail-blazing trendsetters and the unsung heroes from three countries across the Middle East who are using technology to #MakeWhat’sNext:
Thea Myhrvold – United Arab Emirates
“Stop over analysing and start doing!”
At only 26 years old, Thea is already a seasoned tech entrepreneur. After studying International Relations and Economics in Geneva with the goal of making her mark in the United Nations, Thea realised that she could make more of an impact using technology to improve access to education for young people in the Middle East.
Part Arabic, part Norwegian, Thea has always been passionate about education and tutored part time while she was studying – hence TeachMeNow.com was born.
TeachMeNow.com is a global marketplace for learning, which connects students and teachers all over the world in live online sessions. One of the first classes to be hosted on the platform was between a student in Saudi Arabia and a teacher in Venezuela.
Thea attributes a lot of her business success to technology. “We leverage the latest Microsoft technologies to build a scalable business. We use Azure, Office Online, Azure Search, Power BI for data tracking and much more.”
Thea’s message for young women wanting to pursue a career in technology:
“Technology empowers everyone regardless of gender and age by democratising access for all who use it. We need more examples of women in tech to show that we can make a difference in this industry. As a young woman there are a number of challenges you may face, but it’s all about staying ahead of the game and proving that you are the best at what you do. Stop over-analysing and start doing. We all have to start somewhere. Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. Trust and know that you will figure it out along the way.”
Ayyuce Demirbas – Turkey
“Nothing and no one can stop you!”
When Ayyuce Demiras told her teacher she wanted to pursue a career in computer science one day, she was told, “Computers are not for women. Computer science is hard, and women have to give birth to babies and provide for their children. You should choose an easier job.”
And Ayyuce’s teacher was a woman.
Fast forward a few years and Ayucce, now 18 years old, has most certainly proved her teacher wrong by designing and coding several applications that got her recognised in last year’s prestigious ‘Microsoft’s Women Leaders of Technology Awards’. Ayucce remains committed to her goal of becoming a software engineer and believes technology is key in helping her achieve her dreams.
“Windows and Visual Studio are the most useful to me. I use Windows on my own personal computer and I'm currently learning about Windows Kernel Achitecture. Visual Studio is a great coding tool too!”
Ayucce’s message for young women wanting to pursue a career in technology:
“Believe in yourself. Nothing and no-one can stop you!”
Gaithaa Salah Eddin – Egypt
“Technology is everywhere now, and it empowers you as a young woman”
After fleeing their war-stricken home in Syria, Gaithaa and her family settled in Egypt with the hope of building a new life. Living in a different country, navigating the education system and understanding the job market in a foreign place was particularly challenging for Gaithaa.
While studying computer science at university, Gaithaa decided to enrol in one of Microsoft’s YouthSpark programs and became part of the Social Innovation Hub for Women. There she learned the technical skills required to develop an app, that provides refugees in Egypt with much-needed information and skills to assimilate into Egyptian life with ease.
The app, which now includes services on how to obtain and complete official documents, resources on how to find a job, links to affordable housing and connections to local NGOs working with refugees, has been a big success. Gaithaa says that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support and mentorship she received at the Social Innovation Hub, and the application of key technologies like Azure to build the application.
Gaithaa’s message for young women wanting to pursue a career in technology:
“Don’t let any obstacle stop you from achieving your dream. Being a woman should never stop you. Technology is everywhere, and it empowers you as a young woman.”
Microsoft remains committed to closing the gender gap and creating even more opportunities for women to innovate, create and unlock the best opportunities for their future. Last year, Microsoft launched a new movement calling on young women and girls to #MakeWhatsNext. The campaign raises awareness of the issues that cause girls to drop out of or lose interest in studying science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM), and aims to pique their excitement and educate them in how they can change the world — if they stay engaged.
The response to #MakeWhatsNext shows that it’s clear that girls’ passion is strengthened when they see female role models who have created innovations that are used in our everyday lives. As the motto goes, “If you see it, you can be it.”
For more inspirational stories of women in technology, watch this video.